Human enterovirus 68, Hev68, was first discovered in 1962 after being isolated from 4 pediatric cases in California. A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that the prevalence of infections attributed to this picornavirus have substantially increased in the previous years. From 2008 to 2010, six clusters of viral outbreaks were identified in the United States (3 clusters: Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona), the Phillipines, Japan, and the Netherlands.
The viral infections have been shown to disproportionately affect children. All 21 cases in the Phillippines were pediatric cases, 2 of which were fatal; Japan had a record high of 120 Hev68-positive cases, one of which was fatal; the Netherlands had 24 cases, 3 of which were nosocomial infections, and the three clusters in the US had a total of 39 cases.
The virus was identified through reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing which targeted the 5’non-translated region of the strand, and through partial sequencing of structural protein genes VP4 – VP2 and VP1. The increase in number of reported cases can either be attributed to an improvement in diagnostics and medical technology or to an emergence of Hev68. It could also be a combination of the two.
Symptoms of Hev68 infections range from relatively mild illness to severe respiratory illness requiring mechanical medical ventilators and intensive care. Many times, these symptoms are confused for the flu or other respiratory infections. With the prevalence of the infection in the six clusters, the CDC recommends that human enterovirus 68 should be a candidate for cases involving respiratory diseases.